How To Understand Prostate Exams

The proper time for a man to start getting yearly prostate exams is the subject of debate. But by the age of 50, you will most likely have gone through the process at least once.  It is well known as the most unpopular and awkward medical exam that a man must regularly endure.  The American Cancer Society says that though one man out of every six will acquire prostate cancer, only one man in 34 will die of this disease.  The risk of dying from this type of cancer continues drop due to yearly prostate exams and early detection. 

  1. A prostate exam, also known as a DRE (digital rectal exam) only takes about five minutes.  The simple procedure is performed by a doctor with a gloved, lubricated hand.  You'll be told by your doctor that he needs to insert his or her finger into your rectum to be able to feel your prostate.
  2. A man is usually asked to stand and bend over the exam table.  This is the easiest and most comfortable position for both the doctor and the patient.
  3. You might feel a bit of pressure and slight discomfort when the doctor's gloved, lubricated finger is inserted.
  4. The doctor will likely wait a few seconds for your rectal muscles to relax.  It is common for the muscles to become tense, but they will relax quickly.
  5. Once your muscles have relaxed, the doctor will move his finger around to feel the lobes and groove of your prostate gland. The prostate should be triangular with a firm and rubbery feel to it.
  6. After removing his finger, the doctor will probably offer you some tissues to wipe the remaining lubricant from your anal area.

During this quick procedure, the doctor is making sure that your prostate feels normal.  Abnormal features would be noticeable swelling, hard spots, or bumps. 

Your doctor may also recommend the PSA test, an abbreviation of Prostate-Specific Antigen. It is a simple blood test often recommended in conjunction with the DRE test.  Just like any other blood test, a small vile of blood is drawn for the lab to conduct the test.  You will likely be asked not to ejaculate for two days before the test, since that can naturally elevate the amount of PSA in your blood.  PSAs exist in the blood naturally, in small amounts.  Elevated PSA levels can be a possible sign of inflammation, infection or cancer.

What if your doctor thinks that he has found something suspicious from either the DRE or PSA tests?  Try to relax and maintain your optimism; there is still a good chance that you don't have prostate cancer.  A urine test will likely be ordered to see if any issues are the result of a difference complication, such as prostatitis or BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy).  You may also be given a transrectal ultrasound (TRUS), which is no more exciting than it sounds.  A small, cigar-sized probe is inserted into your rectum and sound waves are used to create a view of your prostate gland on a monitor.  If either of these tests suggested the possible presence of cancer, and not a different condition, the doctor will then order a biopsy.  This is when a small tissue sample is taken from the prostate and sent to the lab to test for the presence of cancer cells.

If you ultimately learn that you have prostate cancer, don't despair.  There are many different treatment options available for all the stages of prostate cancer. The sooner you are diagnosis, the greater your chances of survival will be. 


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